The NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft took place this past week, and the New York Islanders entered both drafts with underlying questions on the roster and some glaring issues that needed addressing. Trading Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings solved two of those issues as the team opened up cap space while also allowing the roster to reboot in the process.
The trade, however, leaves a void on defense, as Leddy was one of the Islanders’ best two-way defensemen. With that said, the team is built with one of the more talented defensive units in the NHL, led by the duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. And to fill Leddy’s void in the upcoming season will ultimately be based on the continued growth of 21-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson, who has the full confidence of the coaching staff and front office based on the recent trade.
Dobson’s Emergence as a Defenseman
The 2020-21 NHL season was Dobson’s first full season as a starter, and he played a pivotal role in the backend of the defensive unit for the Islanders. There were questions about how the young defenseman would play at the NHL level, considering his size and inexperience, but Dobson didn’t disappoint.
Playing alongside 38-year-old veteran Andy Greene for the majority of the season, Dobson emerged as one of the best skating defensemen on the team, allowing him to create turnovers on odd-man rushes and converge on passing lanes in the defensive zone. Additionally, Dobson proved to be one of the best defensemen on the team at creating scoring opportunities on the offensive end of the ice, forcing turnovers, and then making great passes to the opposing blue line, resulting in 14 points in the regular season.
The great play across the board from the defenseman not only helped the Islanders retain one of the best defensive units in the NHL but allowed the front office to trade Leddy in the current offseason, knowing the 21-year-old blueliner will only improve in the upcoming season.
Dobson Can Step Into the Power Play
With the Leddy departure, one of the key attributes of the veteran defenseman’s play that will be most missed was his play from the point on the power play. Leddy was a great distributor from the point for the offense, and his ability to find open skaters on the power play resulted in 10 of his 29 assists last season on the man advantage and helped what was an otherwise struggling unit for the Islanders. The Islanders often rotated one defenseman in those situations, and they can still turn to Pelech, Pulock, or Scott Mayfield to provide effective play from the point, but Dobson can fill the void just as well, if not better than the other defensemen on the team.
Dobson wasn’t the best passer on the team last season but was one of the best on the team at creating offensive opportunities, especially later in the season where he led all defensemen in assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with seven. In a bigger role, Dobson can fill the void left by Leddy on the power play and possibly improve the unit over the course of the upcoming season. The man advantage allows Dobson to take advantage of his speed skating, which can give the Islanders a different look on their power play with a faster and more fluid unit. Likewise, the young defenseman has proven he can make a major impact from the point, something he excelled at in the latter half of the regular season.
Parallels to the Devon Toews Trade
In the 2020 offseason, the Islanders traded Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche to open up cap space while sacrificing great two-way play from one of their defensemen. Similar to the Leddy trade, the Islanders lost a great talent in their bottom pairings, who also happened to be one of their best players on the power play. The move itself was only going to be a success if the backend of the unit, most notably Dobson, could step up in the 2020-21 regular season and help maintain a strong defensive play for a team hoping to compete for the Stanley Cup.
With Leddy traded, Dobson will have to take that next step. The young defenseman only averaged 16:24 of ice time last season. And not only does he need to accumulate more ice time in the upcoming season, but he will also need to emerge as one of the team’s top four defensemen, along with Pelech, Pulock, and Mayfield. Moreover, Dobson must continue to improve in all three zones and impact all facets of the game to avoid the team dropping off to ultimately allow the Leddy trade to be a success.
Alternatives to Leddy and the Third Pairing
Even if Dobson continues to improve and emerge as one of the Islanders’ top defensemen, the team still needs a left-shot defenseman. Dobson plays the right side and can play the opposite side in theory, likely on the same pairing as Mayfield, but it would be a difficult adjustment and could leave the defensive unit vulnerable. The Islanders re-signed Greene in the offseason, but at 38 years old, it’s unlikely he can garner enough ice time and still be an effective defenseman for the unit.
There are rumors that the front office is looking to acquire Ryan Suter, Alec Martinez, or Mike Reilly in free agency, but all three defensemen would require the team to balance their salary cap to make the necessary move. In the end, moving Leddy creates a void defensively, but the team has young defensemen that are only improving and should help keep the team in Stanley Cup contention.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.